How to Build a Company Culture that Everyone Feels Connected To

Part 1: Dimensions of Culture and the Perfect Combination for Success

Working with people from all over the world is great! Here at Undutchables we are convinced of the benefits, learning opportunities, and enjoyment that come along with a diverse workforce. This doesn't mean that figuring out a cross-cultural atmosphere is always a walk in the park though. Working through miscommunications, being aware of cultural differences, and finding a balance that works for everyone can be a daunting task. Luckily, Ligia Koijen Ramos from In2Motivation, is an expert in company cultures and has shared her knowledge about the different dimensions of culture to help you learn how to combine them to create an organizational culture that supports your success.

In order to start creating your ideal company culture, you first have to see what is happening under the surface. So, let's jump right in and first figure out what culture actually is.

What is culture, really?

Take a moment to think about what you consider your culture. What factors come into your mind? Maybe you thought of family culture, country culture, or specific group culture. Maybe you thought of shared values, traditions, or life experiences. Or maybe you were not even sure how to answer the question because your culture feels so engrained in you that it is second nature at this point. Whichever factors you thought of (or didn’t) the truth comes down to the simple point that we learn to interact with others, and thus our culture, by developing personal strategies. These are automatic ways that we learn to deal with what we experience in the world around us. Which leads us to a good point, when did we ‘learn’ these personal strategies?

Ligia says, Some people will say, 'I’m always learning.' I'm going to disappoint you big time right now! We stop learning most of our personal strategies when we are 5 years old. Until the age of 5 we are like sponges...and we create strategies based on certain routines. After 5 years old we learn cognitively/intellectually/consciously, but our personal strategies tend not to come from our intellectual point, they come much before that. They come from the nucleus of our culture, and that is our values.”

Ok, so our cultural values are developed at a very early age, so early in fact that it was not even a conscious process. Then how do we determine what the dimensions of culture are? Thanks to Ligia’s research all we have to do is keep reading to learn about these components that make up our underlying culture.

The first, and most basic dimension of culture is – Values. These form the deeply rooted nucleus of a person and culture. They are engrained so deeply in who we are that we often don’t even think about them anymore, but they constitute a belief system that defines how we see the world and influences every action we take.

Which brings us to the second dimension – Rituals. Rituals are actions and habits that we form based on our values. If you think again about your own culture you can probably identify some specific rituals (things that are done or definitely NOT done). Some rituals are less significant than others, and many we take for granted, but when you start working with colleagues from another background the difference between the rituals and expectations can become glaringly obvious.

Our values and rituals also determine who we look up to and what our examples of success look like. In other words, the third dimension – Heroes. Think for instance of the most popular celebrities you might come across in Japan versus Germany, or in Argentina versus Ghana. Or, even the variety of fictional heroes in myths and legends that differs per country. Interesting right? You can clearly see what a culture values by the people and behaviors they choose to put on a pedestal, and this is all based on the underlying dimensions of values and rituals that we are often unaware of, but still act out every day.

And that brings us to the fourth, and final, dimension of culture – Signals. These are behaviors, actions, words, gestures, or even something as simple as road signs, that help us communicate. If you grow up in a specific area you most likely notice and understand a lot of the cultural nuances that are part of every day communication and relationship building in your hometown. But have you ever travelled to another country and realized that not only do you not understand the road signs or the restaurant menus, but that you might get strange looks for just…well you don't know why. And that is exactly the point. If you don't know the signals you might miss the whole point. Consider something as simple as eye contact. In some cultures eye contact is seen as respectful and a way of connecting with another person, while in others it can be considered very rude to look someone in the eye as that signals disrespect. You don't want to mess that one up! While we might not always understand the signals of another culture right away, it is important to recognize that they exist and that we are also putting out our own signals every day.

Learning to identify cultural signaling patterns, and especially the underlying values that direct our rituals, heroes, and signals is the first step to figuring out how to change our interactions and consciously influence company culture.

Why does company culture matter?

Ligia says, “We know that culture has a HUGE impact, and it's not possible to be without a culture. So, even if you don't do anything about it, you will have a culture in your organization.”

With an organization full of people you are bound to have countless differences of culture within your company. Sometimes these differences jive, sometimes they clash, but they will influence your company culture, for better or for worse. Since company culture will develop no matter what, it's better to be aware of what is going on in your organization and choose to actively create a culture that best supports your success, rather than just letting the cards fall where they may and realizing too late that your company culture does not align with your brand or values.

Although the automatic process of creating our own natural culture might stop at 5 years old that does not mean that we have no control over the culture in our organizations. On the contrary, it is possible to develop an intentional culture in your company, built on a well-thought out value system that is tailored to your company’s needs. The best place to start is to determine what type of culture will best support your values and lead your company to achieve the desired goals. In other words – what type of company culture will ensure your success? Once you have determined this, you are ready to start taking action towards influencing your company culture.

So, how do you influence culture?

Thanks to Ligia we have a lot to say on this topic, so you can read more soon in part 2 of this blog series. But in the meantime, here are a couple of ideas to get you started:

  • Be clear and intentional
  • Stay aligned with your values
  • Practice, assess, and practice again
  • Be patient – Rome was not built in a day

It can take a lot of hard work to influence culture, but it is possible and rewarding when it works. It often comes down to the small things so you have to stay alert and make sure that the daily practices within your organization align with your vision, and that the rituals, heroes, and signals that are coming across support the underlying values. Remember, a culture will develop no matter what, so you might as well make sure it is intentional and will be one that supports the success and growth of your team and organization.

This is a recap of part 1 of our Expert Talk series, How to Build a Company Culture that Everyone Feels Connected To. You can review what we learned about influencing culture(s) in our part 2 recap blog, or about putting it all together to create an organisational culture that everyone loves in our part 3 recap blog. You can also rewatch the full sessions on our YouTube channel. Enjoy!

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